Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Man Who Summed All Truth

Saint Thomas Aquinas
by Aubrey De Vere

He left the fortress-palace of his sires:
The blood of princes coursing through his veins
Flushed him no more with pride's insurgent fires
Than streams, hill-born, make proud the sundered plains:
He loved that lowly life the world disdains;
Contemned the insensate pomp that world admires;—
He walked, in soul conversing with those choirs
That sing where peace eternal lives and reigns.
Tender Loretto to her breast elate
Caught him a youngling. Silent, meek, serene,
His small feet sought the poor beside her gate
That wondered at the brightness of his mien
Even then a holy creature dedicate
To Wisdom's sovran seat and sacred Queen.

Beauteous Campania! In the old Roman morn
The great ones of the nations rushed to thee:
In thy rich gardens by the full-voiced sea
Wearied they slept, and woke like men re-born.
Not so the greatest of thy sons! In scorn
He passed the snare; his spirit strong and free
Less honouring Pestum's roses than that thorn
The crown of Calvary's Victim. Who was he?
The Ascetic who refused a prelate's throne
Lest worldly aims with cares divine should mix;
The Builder lifting fanes of thought not stone,
Far less poor Babel Towers of sun-burnt bricks;
The man who summed all Truth, yet drew alone
His sacred science from his crucifix.

Great Saint! In pictures old a sun there flamed
Soft sphere of radiance on thy vest of snow;
It taught us that from hearts by sin unshamed,
The mind's inspirer best, alone could flow
Sapience like thine. "Master of those who know!"
At heaven's high mark alone thy shaft was aimed:
Therefore, by thee unwoo'd by thee disclaimed
Science terrestrial sought thy threshold low.
Beneath thy cell she knelt: all pagan lore
From mines of Plato and the Stagyrite
To thee she tendered. Thou, with spiritual light
Piercing each ingot of that golden ore,
To gems didst change them meet to pave the floor
Of God's great Temple on the empyreal height.

Quite a bit going on here. "The man who summed all truth" is, of course, a reference to the Summa Theologiae. The sun in the third stanza refers to one of his most noticeable iconographical symbols -- he is often depicted with a sun on his chest. "Master of those who know" is a phrase typically applied to Aristotle, as is "the Stagyrite".